The Chicago Blackhawks were supposed to be the next exciting hockey team. Led by rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and coached by hometown legend Denis Savard, the storied hockey franchise returned to relevance last season. Though their 40-34-8 record in 2007-2008 wasn’t good enough to earn a playoff spot, the future certainly looked bright in the Windy City.
Apparently, it didn't look bright enough for Chicago owner Rocky Wirtz and general manager Dale Tallon. On Oct. 16, Tallon informed Savard that he was being fired, just four games into the Blackhawks’ season, after the team had gotten off to a slow start.
Let me repeat that: Savard was fired four games into the Blackhawks’ season. After a “horrible” 1-2-1 start to the year, which included a road defeat to the New York Rangers, a team that started the season 5-0. Even though his Blackhawks had won 4-1 the night before.
In Savard, the Blackhawks fired one of the most influential players in the history of their organization—Savard was drafted No. 3 overall by Chicago in 1980 and went on to have 10 successful seasons with the franchise—and a man who had a strong connection with the team’s young superstars, Kane and Toews.
In an interview with the Associated Press about Savard’s firing, Kane had to fight back tears, while in the same story Toews referred to the firing as “really weird.”
But Dale Tallon isn’t the only general manager with a quick hook these days. Last month, the Milwaukee Brewers, who were on the verge of their first playoff berth since 1982, fired manager Ned Yost with seven games remaining in the season, replacing him with interim manager Dale Sveum. Apparently what was good enough to contend over the first 151 simply wasn’t going to cut it over the next 11.
Or perhaps Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin was just doing what he had to do to keep up. After all, the team the Brewers beat out for the National League Wild Card, the New York Mets, was playing for an interim manager as well. On June 18, in the middle of the night, after a victory, New York general manager Omar Minaya informed manager Willie Randolph that he was out of a job. Needless to say, that move didn’t quite pan out.
So why all the carnage? When discussing the firing of his brother, Tommy, by the Clemson Tigers last week, college football analyst Terry Bowden declared simply: “It’s the nature of the business.”
But exactly what business are we talking about? Terry Bowden’s argument is particularly hard to stomach in college football, where year after year coaches such as Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, and Rich Rodriguez, are lambasted and labeled disloyal for leaving their schools for more attractive and lucrative jobs.
If a coach like Tommy Bowden, who built Clemson into an ACC power, can fall victim to his own success, why should any coach feel comfortable in his current position? Better yet, why should a coach feel any loyalty to a team that will fire him as soon as its fans get restless? For Savard, 10 years of loyalty as a player and two more as a coach weren’t even enough to guarantee him more than 10 days with the Blackhawks this season. Why should any of his colleagues expect better treatment?
The National Football League—where one game each season usually marks the difference between going to the playoffs and spending January watching the games on TV—is the most cutthroat of all leagues when it comes to firing coaches. Less than halfway into the 2008 season, three coaches—Oakland’s Lane Kiffin, San Francisco’s Mike Nolan, and St. Louis’s Scott Linehan—have already been handed their walking papers.
The Rams have actually played pretty well since Linehan got his pink slip, but neither Kiffin nor Nolan can be blamed for their teams’ early-season struggles. Instead, both became scapegoats after their respective teams’ young quarterbacks (each of whom were No. 1 overall draft picks) failed to live up to the hype—Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell, only in his second year, has been slow to develop, while San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, who has been an utter disappointment, is out for the rest of 2008 with a shoulder injury.
Of course, the Raiders and the 49ers aren’t the only teams whose young quarterbacks have failed to live up to the hype. Titans’ quarterback Vince Young, for example, has been underwhelming in Tennessee while fighting mental demons and facing harsh fan criticism along the way. Young was recently replaced as a starter by journeyman Kerry Collins. The Titans’ coach, Jeff Fisher, is currently the longest-tenured coach in professional football.
Their record so far this year? 6-0.